Bob’s Your Uncle
I once lived in England for five years as an expatriate for my company, and during that time my HR team took great pleasure in confusing me with English words that held little meaning for an American. Often times I could even repeat the phrase back to them, yet still didn’t understand what the terms meant.
As the Brits often told me, we speak the same language, but we don’t. My colleagues loved to “take the mick out of me” (poke innocent fun).
One example that stuck with me over time is “Bob’s your uncle.” Imagine the first time I heard that phrase. What again?
Within the UK it’s a common phrase that means “And there you go” or “Everything’s fine now.” But the words just didn’t make sense to me. But like so many colloquialisms out there, finding the root cause going back decades or more proved a challenge. It took me almost two years to find someone who could explain where the term originated (we didn’t have Google back then).
Two hundred or so years ago there was a high-ranking Member of the English Parliament (Robert, Lord Salisbury) who held great sway (political influence) across the British Empire. This was a powerful man, and one who believed in nepotism and political cronyism, so it was not unusual for even his distant relations to find themselves gifted with important government positions.
Such favored office holders with familial connections held positions of power, influence and easy living. Over time the phrase was born, that everything would be easy peasy (fine and dandy) just as long as “Bob’s your uncle.”
And That Applies How?
Which got me to thinking about a message I had received a few weeks back from a recent graduate, one who wanted to make a career in HR, and specifically compensation. This inexperienced fellow posed a basic query, one often asked by those just beginning their careers. “How can I achieve success in my chosen profession (Compensation)?” He wondered whether there was a blueprint, a map, or a guide of sorts to keep him on the straight and narrow. He had hoped to find a “Compensation for Dummies” book from Amazon.
Of course, there are no rules, no instruction manuals or pointed arrows on the road, each guaranteed to take you by the hand and show the way to career success. Instead, the experiences of those who went before you are varied and distinct in so many ways, usually a compilation of diverse career choices, working for particular supervisors who influenced for good or ill, differing type and operating style of employers, and of course the series of unanticipated head knocks (lessons learned from mistakes) that one gains over the length of a career.
What happened to me may not happen to you, I thought. There is no, “Read this and you’ll be fine.”
So I condensed my experiences, career preferences, personal work philosophy, and gut instincts into a set of generic principles that could (or should) provide a solid platform of suggestions for anyone interested in career success, whatever the chosen profession.
Below is the essence of my response to that recent graduate, reflecting my thoughts for how a compensation practitioner can become a success. It’s not a complete list, the specific applications can sway in the wind along with the reality of personal circumstances, but the concepts are broad enough for individual interpretation.
- Understand your organization: You need to know at least the basics of the business operations where you work. What are your products/services and what advantages do they offer a customer or community? What is the company’s reputation, and why? Don’t remain stuck in your office/cubicle, but get out there and learn about what makes the business tick.
- Understand the compelling facts: What is the business environment that your organization operates in, and how competitive is your reward program? What story does the compensation metrics of your organization tell you? What issues do you face with payroll, turnover, morale, engagement, etc? Sadly though, all too many practitioners start and stop here.
- Understand your management: Who are these people who run the business and what are their management biases? Learn the perspectives that each of them brings toward making HR and compensation decisions. Know these leaders and take every opportunity to ensure that they know you.
- Understand your goals: If you don’t know where you’re going, or which pathway you’re on, then any road will do. So learn what defines success at your organization and strive to support efforts in that direction. Make sure that your own objectives are integrated into the larger picture of overall success.
- Mix, stir and bake at 350 degrees until done! Take all of the knowledge gained from the above, combine it with your own skill sets and experience, a little political deftness and then work diligently at making a difference, every day.
And there you are! Follow these suggestions in pursuing your chosen career and everything will be fine.
Bob’s your uncle.
Shooting The Messenger
Nobody likes to hand out bad news, especially face-to-face. Not only is it depressing and possibly demoralizing, but you have to look people in the eye when they get punched in the proverbial gut. This awful experience is personally troubling if you’re the one holding the unpopular or unwanted news and if your senior leadership are the ones whose day you’re going to ruin.
In days of yore (a long time ago) the messengers sent between feudal kingdoms were considered inviolate. As these personal representatives were the chosen form of communication back then, the thought was that, if you tortured or killed the fellow because you didn’t like what they had to say, then any return messenger you ultimately sent would almost certainly face the same treatment.
But that logical conclusion didn’t erase the concern felt by medieval couriers standing in hostile territory as they recited words certain to anger powerful warlords.
Not an assignment to be envied, for sure.
Less Dramatic Today, But . . . .
Fortunately, the chances of being drawn and quartered for delivering an unwanted message has diminished over time. It almost never happens anymore. But that comforting thought hasn’t completely erased the fear element for those standing before a disheartened and possible angry senior manager.
While a torturous dismemberment or death sentence may be off the table as an option in today’s business world, it’s still a risky business being the bearer of bad news to senior leaders. There’s the blame game to consider, the taint of forever being associated with news they didn’t want to hear, a stinging blow to your professional credibility, and perhaps worst, a career-damaging stigma that could weaken important relationships and provide you with all too much negative exposure.
In the world of office politics being the messenger harboring bad or unwanted news is still a position most would want to avoid – if at all possible.
Big Boy/Girl Pants
However, sometimes you have to do what you have to do. You may not have created a recessionary economy, a highly competitive industry, government regulations that increase fixed costs, a difficult organized labor environment, or a host of other external factors that are considered bad news to senior leadership. It may not be your fault that the payroll is bloated, that turnover is spiking, that good talent is increasingly hard to find, and that your reward programs are not effective (enough). But you may still find yourself to be the one standing there, darkening senior management’s day with a bitter pill of uncomfortable reality.
No one ever said that your job would be a bed of roses, did they? No one said that there wouldn’t be a downside to that promotional increase and nice new title you received, did they?
So man up (or similar gender neutral phraseology) and when the time occurs (and it will, eventually) face the music. Don’t pass the deed off to subordinates. Don’t mumble the words. Don’t blame someone (anyone) else. Don’t try to confuse the message with elaborate language, double speak or uncommon terminology. Just cut to the chase and say what needs to be said with unvarnished directness.
And you know what? You might get a few points out of the experience after all. Following an immediate negative response from your audience, cooler minds may eventually prevail. Honesty and direct talk are still virtues in most quarters, as is taking responsibility when the buck stops with you.
If there are opportunities to right a wrong, to solve a problem or to redirect efforts down a better strategic pathway, speak up. Don’t just drop the “bomb” and leave. Here might be your best chance to be seen as a problem solver, a creative thinker, a guide to show the way out of the forest.
Take the opportunity to make lemonade from the lemons in your hand.
With any luck, they won’t shoot the messenger.
Because I Said So
Do you remember hearing this phrase when you were a kid? I sure do. That sharp retort would have come from one of my parents, probably after they’d had just about enough of me asking “Why?” to everything they said or asked me to do.
If you recall, that outburst never helped the situation though, did it? Probably because it was shouted out of frustration, not education. My parents wanted me to pay attention to them and to do what I’m told.
It Still Doesn’t Work
Fast forward to the present day. Have you ever tried to use that phrase at work? Have you ever found yourself so tired of doubters questioning your every step, your recommendations or simply your way of performing your job – to the point that you just wanted to scream at them, “Just do what I ask,” “I know what I’m talking about,” or my favorite, “Just trust me about this.”
Of course, that sort of explosive behavior is not a career enhancing practice when dealing with colleagues, never mind those higher up the food chain. In fact, it might have the opposite effect as you find yourself burning bridges and alienating those you can’t afford to upset.
What is usually the root cause of the frustration is that you as the local compensation “expert” are trying to gain acceptance (and implementation) of ideas, processes or simply policy/procedure decisions that those whose support you need are not comfortable with. They could be ignorant of the compensation rationale, not understand the cost/employee morale implications, feel that your approach is more complicated than they would like, or it’s simply an action or intent that goes against their personal biases. And when the bosses aren’t comfortable, they dig in their heels.
Walk Before You Run
You have to teach these guys. In effect, they need your help. But it shouldn’t be, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.”
You should take the time to hold their hand while you explain what it is that you want to do and why. You have to show them the problem you mean to solve, and exactly why it’s a problem. Your audience likely doesn’t understand the field of Compensation, and may even have a bit of distrust with all those numbers. So you need to make an effort to get them over to your side.
Not everyone can do this. Compensation practitioners are typically content experts, and not necessarily comfortable with public speaking or teaching others. The competency of persuasiveness and influencing is a skill in itself, and one that you need to practice at constantly, no matter your current level of comfort. Because knowing you’re right about something as important as managing the cost and implications of employee pay will never be enough. You have to be able to convince colleagues and senior management that you know what you’re talking about. That you know how to get things done. That they can have confidence in you. Gaining that conviction from leadership is always a challenge, no matter how “expert” you are at the technical side of your chosen profession.
As any teacher will tell you, your “students” will have to walk before they can run. They will have to be brought along, slowly in some cases, by careful explanations of the principles involved, how they impact the organization, and how a proper application of your recommendations can and will bring success.
Remember that you have to communicate, communicate, communicate. Use illustrations and common examples, along with a few pictures (charts and graph) to help educate those who have the power to approve or block your initiatives. And do this, over time, by face-to-face interactions, not via impersonal (and often boring) memorandum.
In my view, a leadership team who understands the role and impact of the Compensation function can be your friend. But you have to nurture that friendship. You have to work to get them on your side.
You can’t tell them what to do. That tactic usually works in the opposite direction.
One Day At A Time
Most of you, right?
Now, how many of you actually managed to keep the light of inspiration burning bright one week after returning to work? How about for two weeks?
Ok, not many hands still raised.
Reality Sets In
The problem we face is that there’s often a world of difference between the ideas inspired by a conference speaker and the realities of life where you work. Somehow what you hear often doesn’t relate to the practical world you live in.
So what usually happens when you return to work gung ho to transform your workplace?
- You find that no one picked up the ball while you were away. So you’re immediately tossed into a maelstrom of catch-up work, putting out fires and in general just trying to get projects and activities back onto an even keel.
- The boss doesn’t want to hear about the great ideas you brought back with you. There’s work to be done and you’ve been gone too long already. Or perhaps the perception was that the seminar was a boondoggle get-away and the boss doesn’t take the subject matter seriously.
- You’re reminded that the work culture is more interested in maintaining its self-interest and status quo, and as a result tends to stifle new ideas. You can’t find a sponsor to support your initiatives.
- Within a few weeks, you start to think of that conference as more of a vacation with good memories than a catalyst for action. The daunting reality of what it would take to initiate real change has dampened your enthusiasm to a whisper of what it had been. Dust starts to gather on the participant binder.
Meanwhile the conference speakers you enjoyed so much have moved on to motivate, excite and invigorate the next batch of attendees – and the cycle of life goes on.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
One Day At A Time
Let’s presume that your position on the organizational ladder is not at the top, that you cannot effect change simply by dictum: “Make it so!” What you’re likely left with as a strategy then, is to focus on incremental change. Get that first down or punch out a single hit, vs. throwing for the end zone or swinging for the bleachers.
Some practical suggestions for you to consider:
- Take little steps: If you know the direction you want to take (changes in policies, procedures, behaviors, whatever) start moving in that direction in small ways vs. abruptly shaking things up with big ideas. As examples you could start collecting data (metrics), revise forms to be more user-friendly, increase procedures to create more transparencies; the list of minor targeted improvements can be endless.
- Educate decision-makers: Get the decision-makers on your side by talking to them, explaining your ideas, starting with the basics. Don’t assume that they understand the foundations of your profession. Leadership needs to be brought beyond sound bites and talking points to an understanding of compensation issues that affect the organization.
- Develop your own strategy: Whatever it is you wish to accomplish, plan out the steps you’ll need to get there; Who needs to be on board as supporters, what (and who) are the barriers to success, what has been tried before, what are the likely challenges?
- Communicate, communicate, communicate: Don’t try to recommend changes from the safety and anonymity of your office or cubicle. Get out there and interact with clients, sponsors and even resistors. Whether it’s talking to groups, preparing white papers on relevant topics, or simply exposing the dark corners of bad practices/behaviors, you need to focus on your message and repeat it, over and over again.
- Watch for glitches: They are everywhere, those mistakes, unintentional consequences, and passive resistors just lying in wait. So be ready. No plan is perfect, no one is mistake-proof. Ask yourself, what can go wrong? Where should I expect complaints? Then prepare your response in advance.
Becoming a catalyst for change when you can’t wave a magic wand takes time, takes patience, and takes a large dose of discipline. Anticipate that there will be setbacks and disappointments. Learn from them and carry on.
Just take one day at a time.
Then maybe then next year you can share your own experiences at one of those conferences. You’ll have something valuable to contribute.
Beware The Ides Of March
Do you remember the storyline from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar? Or at least the good part, when the Senators surrounded him and commenced with the assassination? “Et tu, Brute?” is one of the most famous lines of all the bard’s illustrious plays (“You Too, Brutus?”).
Now let me test your memory a bit further. Do you recall the warning a soothsayer had sent to Caesar the morning of that fateful day, just as he was departing for the Roman Senate? “Beware the Ides of March” was the simple message. That day was the Ides (15th) and the fortune teller had reached out with Shakespeare’s premonition.
It was a verbal red flag that was ignored, to Caesar’s ultimate ruin.
Your Own Warning
We’re now approaching that same fateful date in the calendar again, and yes, there’s another warning flag being waved, but this time for you. Because on or about the Ides of March you will have probably wrapped up your reward program administration efforts for last year, 2016. The annual incentive checks likely have been distributed, merit increases have been granted, and whatever changes took place in your salary structure and merit spend have been communicated and implemented.
With luck you have already launched your 2017 incentive programs and have the business and employee objectives (mostly) completed.
Whew. Time for a break?
Not so fast.
In the annual Compensation calendar there is usually a period of approximately six months (mid-March to mid-September) when your efforts are your own, not on automatic pilot. When you’re not committed to a series of annual projects to close out the old year and welcome in the new one. So right about now you’ve completed wrapping up 2016, started 2017 but haven’t yet had to start the planning cycle for the year to come.
You’re now looking at a period of (relative) quiet that you can use to your advantage if you grasp for it. Here is the time to analyze, research, recommend and just kick the tires on new thinking, potential new/revised programs and alternative processes that could provide improvements to your reward programs. ROI gains and payroll cost savings could be had. And if you have your own annual objectives to deal with, now would be the time to focus your efforts.
But that’s if you take the time to focus. Because your window of opportunity will close within six months, which is all too soon in most cases. And that clock has already started ticking down.
Better get to it.
Fritter Away at Your Peril
Chances are reasonable that you will have certain tasks/projects to complete this year. And probably not a lot of time to get things done without scrambling. Perhaps you need to rethink your sales incentive scheme, or your metrics dashboard has a red light or two flashing. You could be facing compliance issues or other friction points in your reward programs that you’ve put off addressing for too long already.
But I hope that you won’t be like Caesar and ignore the cautionary flags being waved at you. Today they’re likely a yellow alert, just to get your attention. By the time they become a flashing red in the middle of vacation season it may be too late to accomplish what you intended/was expected of you. Or at least in a quality manner.
Procrastination and delay will not be your friends, so please make the most of the time you have before those automatic pilot projects start up again in September (or even earlier).
No one likes to play catch-up, especially with important projects, and the frantic efforts that would be involved (all-hands-on-deck strategy) rarely work out well, for you or the organization.
So consider me your own personal soothsayer and listen to the words being whispered in your ear.
Remember the Ides of March!
What Does This Mean?
Many of us probably have an image in our heads, locked in from childhood memories, that of a dog chasing a car down a neighborhood street. The dog sprints down the road, barking wildly and trying desperately to catch the moving car. Mostly to no avail because, let’s face it, there’s no speed contest here.
But have you ever seen a time when that chased car suddenly comes to a stop (traffic light, stop sign, etc.) and then watch when the pursuing dog finally catches up? It’s hilarious, as the canine seems suddenly befuddled by the change in circumstances. It just stands there in the street, panting from the exertion, not quite knowing what it should do now.
Which makes his exercise a bit pointless, doesn’t it?
The Befuddled Manager
In a sense, the same thing can happen at work, in situations when managers are given a market analysis figure from the Compensation folks. These HR specialists have been asked the question – what is this job worth? What is the competitive, or “going rate” out there?
Suddenly they are given a figure.
Now I have a new picture in my head, one that I see happening all too often in the workplace. Picture an employee hustling down the hallway, a white paper in hand, gleefully shouting (somewhat like Paul Revere), “I have the number.”
As in, this is what we should pay. This is what we should do
But do they have the right number? So often I see situations where the explanation or rationalization of that figure is lost on the manager. All they seem to be able to see is – they have a number. Whew. Job done.
Have they considered that the figure in their hand may not have the precision they assume? Likely not.
- Maybe only a limited number of companies participated in the survey(s)compensation analysis,
- Just where exactly did the figure come from?
- Is the job match 100%, or perhaps a lower figure – or even guesstimate?
- The data is national or regional, which may be different than our local needs
- Does the figure reflect our industry? Does it reflect our size (revenue, operating budget, etc.)?
Perhaps that fellow running down the hallway should turn around and get some of these questions answered first – before sticking his head out with senior management.
But What Does It Mean?
In a sense, getting the numbers, whatever their quality, is only the beginning. Now what to do? I am asked that question a great deal. Now that management has the number(s), what do they mean? What should/could be done?
What do I do now?
This is where compensation analysis and compensation management/consulting tend to blur their respective roles.
The analyst should have the answers to the questions we just posed and should make it their responsibility to ensure that the internal client hears them as well. At that point, of course, the analysis is complete and perhaps we’re back to the hallway.
It’s then that the higher (softer) role of Compensation kicks in, getting that client to realize the implications of those figures and start to sort out a strategy that responds to the new analysis.
If you find that you’re paying certain key employees 20% below market rates, the analyst will tell you that. But now you need to consider how to deal with potential next steps.
- A 20% increase for those affected (general increase?).
- An ad hoc performance review that portions out increases based on merit.
- A review of internal equity to see who else might be impacted by a flurry of sudden pay increases.
- Crafting an appropriate message that remains positive while not admitting you’re been underpaying these employees for years.
So to all you compensation analysts out there; here is an opportunity to add value and get yourself some helpful exposure. Go beyond the simple explanation of, “Here is the number you asked for” and consider what this new information means to the client. Whether other questions are raised, whether possible responses could affect other employees, or whether solving one problem can create two new issues.
Because sometimes your client won’t know enough to ask what your answer really means, as they’re already anxious to start their rush down the hallway.
Let Me Tell You A Story
When you’re trying to grab the attention of Senior Management to listen to your ideas, remember this; they like a good story, especially one with pictures.
If you’re addressing your company’s single largest expense, its employee pay programs, the pictures become charts & graphs that help to illustrate the points being made.
Pictures capture attention and build memories much better than text or even the spoken word. Show a picture and the image is locked in, while reliance only on text can be a risk as memories can quickly fade. “He said what?” Also, the drone of dry prose can grow boring and is liable to lose the attention of all but your strongest supporters.
Attention grabbers that work: 1) speedometer style formats that graphically indicate the current situation against the target; 2) the green light, yellow light, red light approach, again to colorfully paint a picture that stays in the mind; and 3) pie charts, tables, even regressed lines that show a story.
People remember images because they capture the imagination, while they could have a harder time recalling (and taking to heart) what you said or what you wrote. So concentrate on your supportive imagery.
Make the story a short one. I once worked for a CEO who thought any proposal could be reduced to a single piece of paper, with plenty of white. “If you need more than that,” he would say, “it’s not such a grand idea.”
You Need A Plan
However, before you settle on the visual format best suited to sell your case you should focus on the data points necessary to make that case. Remember the old adage that a dream without a plan is only a fantasy? If you don’t take action steps to convert ideas to reality, what you’ll be left with is smoke & mirrors – with no results to show for your efforts.
For those of you who have ever been on a diet, you treat it like a project plan, right? Experts advise that participants write down everything they eat, have goals to strive for and milestones to gauge progress. It helps to have a plan and to keep score – to know where you stand and where you’re headed.
To accomplish this at work you should create quantifiable metrics that will collectively illustrate the well-being of your compensation program(s) – and then establish baselines (current state) and forward-thinking targets for each performance indicator. This key step will help you understand whether your intentions are being fulfilled and whether the ROI on employee rewards is at the level your company requires.
Commonly used HR metrics:
- Average salary/wage
- Compa-ratios (comparison of pay to a range midpoint)
- Count of employees per segment (hourly, non-exempt, professional, management)
- Average performance ratings
- Average annual pay rise for each performance rating
- Count and average promotional and “equity” increases
- Voluntary turnover (employees who decided to leave)
- Average employee age and length of service
We could go on and on, but you get the point. Refine these and any other quantifiable factors by further segmentation – per salary grade, employee group, male / female, etc. Make sure that each metric is measurable, because accuracy and objectivity count. A compelling argument demands precision, while subjective aspirations like attitudes, relationships and other vague goals are little more than “feel good” goals.
To make these metrics work for you, avoid make-work arithmetic exercises that do nothing more than capture minutia. Be certain to measure what is important to your business – not simply what data you can capture. You don’t want your senior leaders to say, “So what?” Make sure the importance of the metrics are clear to management (or can be made so). Management needs to grasp the importance of what success looks like, to understand why your metrics are important and what achievement would mean for the organization.
Once you have the right metrics established (collectively called the “dashboard”) and a baseline in place, you’ll readily see where the problems lie, as these visual can be powerful and compelling. Now set specific targets going forward to improve the identified weak areas, creating periodic milestones to mark your progress.
What To Look For
Every organization has different pressure points. However, if your metrics data indicates any of the following situations, management should be informed.
- Average performance ratings that exceed how the business was rated
- A workforce where key segments are approaching retirement age
- Promotion and “equity” increase activity that overwhelms the reward budget
- Low compa-ratios that indicate you are not paying your salary ranges
- Unexplained voluntary turnover
- Any figure that is an unpleasant surprise
When you’re telling a story to management, make it compelling – with facts and pictures that feed off the critical metrics analyses that form the pulse of your business. Then bring home the sale by showing how you plan (the proposal) to solve the challenges being faced – with practical strategies designed to end your story on a happy and successful note.
Get Over Yourself
Over the span of my career I’ve interacted with any number of Compensation practitioners, but also with a host of wannabes, career transients and dabblers, along with more than my share of HR generalists thinking that “Anyone can do this.” But the hardest profile I’ve had to rub shoulders with is the self-proclaimed expert who thinks that they know all and have seen all.
They have the right answers. Even if they’re not a Compensation pro.
You’ve seen this type of individual before; they’re the “answer man” for every challenge that an organization can throw at them. They always seem to know what needs to be done, and how it should be done, and their supreme confidence in themselves allows no reluctance in letting you know how proficient they are. To put an icing on the cake they typically compound their arrogance by insisting that their approach, answer, stratagem is the right way. The only way. And that other suggestions or perspectives are simply . . . wrong.
These people can be technically effective at what they do, but they often think too much of themselves and want to make sure that everyone else knows how effective they are as well. Which irritates, doesn’t it? These are the types you see at professional conferences, blog sites and association gatherings, arguing over issues like the Cost of Living vs. the Cost of Labor, lamenting over the death of the performance appraisal process and debating the right steps to solve the latest hot topic compensation issue. They are also convinced that the solutions they used in the past are definitely the right course to take with today’s problems.
They’re not the personality type I’d like to have a drink with.
But I can forgive all of that (ok, most of that), if only they would show a bit of humility. If only they would get over themselves.
Presenting a personality of arrogant expertise in the face of any and all challenges can sometimes blind you to the particular realities of the situation being faced. To the point where you start to force fit so-called solutions in order to match the problem. These folks forget that when you’re dealing with people, not simply with figures, formulae and spreadsheets, what the correct solution is becomes less of a cookie cutter “let’s do this again” strategy and more how to handle a unique manifestation of specific challenges grown out of the organization, the culture, the demographics and even the management biases within their business.
So that what worked somewhere else yesterday may not work here, today.
Long term, the problems faced by these self-proclaimed experts are that;
- They alienate lesser mortals (staff and colleagues) with their arrogance, self-righteousness, stubbornness and know-it-all demeanor. Which is not a good recipe for building an effective team effort.
- They tend to lecture senior management on what is the (only) right course of action. Which can be a career limiting move.
- They are not good losers, believing that a decision going against them is a major mistake. They can then become passive resistors.
Take a Lesson
No one likes to be lectured, to always be told that their ideas fall short of the proper way to do things. If that behavior describes how you approach working with others, stop it!
When you were young and first started school your mother likely told you, “Play nice with the other kids,” or words to that effect. In other words, don’t place yourself apart but become part of the group. In later years, by the time you gained a leadership role that admonition can be converted into “Learn the environment and listen to the employees – only then should you speak.”
Show a little humility by listening to others, by planning for unintended consequences and by anticipating “gotcha” questions and the doubt of inevitable naysayers. Try to understand that others, even subordinates can have effective ideas and possible solutions that are worth considering. And that senior management may have a more complete view of an issue than simply the compensation perspective.
But most important – get over yourself.
I’m Too Busy
I hear this lament a lot these days, and I suspect you do as well. This dismissive comment can be the response you get whenever you ask a work colleague to; 1) reply to a question, 2) help out with a project you’re working on, 3) carve out some time to help an intern or trainee, 4) attend an off-site networking event, or 5) even to grab lunch sometime to chat about life in general.
Sometimes you don’t even get a response at all, as voice mail and emails may go unanswered.
These people are just too busy to pick their nose up from the grindstone they’re pressed against to give you the time of day. Or to smell the roses, for that matter.
Now what does that say to you when the door seems to be shut in your face? How does it make you feel? That perhaps you should be busy too? That you wish you were as dedicated a worker as your colleague? Or perhaps you have a less positive reaction in mind.
Go Away (nicely)
I read an article the other day by Ed Baldwin, who used the tagline Busy Is The New Stupid. In it he said that the real message that you’re likely sending when you say you’re too busy is that:
- Your time is more important than theirs
- You’re not very good at prioritizing your time
- You want to be judged based on how busy you are, not how productive you are
- You aren’t a priority (to me), or at least what you want to speak with me about isn’t a priority
A bit harsh perhaps, but at the same time the author is presuming that busy people are productive and successful people. So you’re really interrupting them. More about that in a bit.
What Mr. Baldwin is focused on in his article is suggesting a better way for that busy employee to get rid of the irritant (you) without appearing insensitive. He opines that by instead using the phrase, “It (what you’re asking or suggesting) isn’t a priority for me” you won’t be using a lame excuse of being so busy, but still honestly responding in a way that doesn’t glorify one’s own “busyness” and imply that your time is more important than theirs.
I’m not so sure about that, though, as labeling the questioner’s needs as low priority in your world isn’t likely to win friends or influence people in their world or your own, never mind see that they receive Christmas cards this year. People remember being blown off, no matter how nicely done.
And that doesn’t even touch the negative social aspects (avoiding lunch) or helping one’s own career (active networking).
Busy or Productive?
There is another way to look at this busyness though, and that is with the view that, “As long as I’m busy I’m being productive and a good employee.”
Another fallacy. If you can divide your goals into importance rankings (say, A or B or C), then you can be very busy all day long working on “C” tasks and never accomplish anything of import. In this case, being labeled as “busy” doesn’t necessarily connote worthwhile productivity, but literally – being very active. As they’re so caught up in whatever they are doing they are unable or unwilling to help someone else. But that doesn’t mean whatever they are doing is all that meaningful.
Are productive and successful people busy? I suspect so, but I don’t think that the determinant criteria is simply being busy. Because time and again we’ve seen that the Joe Averages out there can be quite busy as well.
Let’s hope you can find your own balance of being productively engaged in impactful work without being a rude idiot about it when someone stops by your office space.
And while you’re at it, go ahead and take that lunch, and take the time to polish off your networking skills. It’s all good.
The Red Envelope
As a Compensation practitioner, have you ever seen the use of the “Red Envelope?” In Chinese and other East and Southeast Asian societies a red envelope or packet is a monetary gift given during the holidays or special occasions such as weddings, graduation or the birth of a child.
Multiple cultural distinctions exist between various countries, from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand to South Korea, Japan and the Philippines and other countries. A monetary gift to children by their relatives, or from married couples to those about to be married, or simply best wishes from elders to the younger generation. The uses seem endless from one country to another.
Various cultural traditions dictate that the amount of money should end with an even digit, while odd numbered amounts have other purposes. Other traditions require that the money should not be given in fours, or the number four should not appear in the amount. Apparently, the pronunciation of the number four is the same as for the word death.
Connection to Compensation
That’s nice, you’re probably saying, and an interesting tidbit for the next time a conversation lags, but as this practice of handing out cash envelopes is used outside of the company, how does it relate to an organization’s reward program?
Think Spot Award Program. Think Recognition. Think outside the box to consider how you might be able to influence your own reward & recognition programs to tap into the unexpected – to achieve appreciation by employees for a gesture of recognition or simple goodwill, not simply for doling out more cash under a standard pay-for-performance scheme.
Think about the possibilities of your own Red Envelope program, or call it Green or Yellow or even Purple.
But first, consider the scenario of two people having a coffee at a local Starbucks. One of those people works for you. Now somewhere in the conversation, the topic turns to where these two people work, and comparisons are quickly made. Those comparisons won’t be about how much money each of them make (unless they’re really close), but about their work environment. What it’s like to work at their respective employers. What each of them feel about their employer.
All the money in the world won’t make your employee say good things about your organization if the boss is a tyrant, if employees are not treated fairly, if the company doesn’t seem to care about its workers, and if the employee would prefer to work elsewhere. Reputations are made and lost in these conversations, as word of how organizations treat employees will spread.
I once worked for a short period at an employer where the Staffing Manager privately confided to me that “The word is out. Quality talent are being advised by local search firms to avoid us.”
Worst case scenario? Perhaps. But it happened. It can happen where you work too.
Make A Connection
Think about it. What can you do to improve morale, engagement, the working atmosphere, even the reputation of your organization among employees?
What if your organization instituted an employer-sponsored program of ad hoc cash grants to employees, and/or their families, not for performance but in recognition of something significant that happened in your employee’s life? That’s like treating them like extended family themselves, isn’t it?
Your own Red Envelope program.
It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. You won’t need a big budget. Because the largest impact of such a feel-good grant is the positive message it sends that you (the organization) cares.
Now think again about that Starbucks conversation. Think about your employer saying to their companion, “Let me tell you something that my company does, just out of the blue.” Indeed, this can be where good reputations are born and spread.
Positive stuff. And yes, such a payment would be a reward, in the broader sense of Total Rewards.
Something to consider when you’re looking outside the box.